The blaze is now believed to have started in a storage room filled with highly flammable moorings -- one of the few places on board not equipped with sprinklers.
"We had a practice drill then a half hour later, the real thing happened," said one passenger.
Investigators questioned the ship's captain about why he allowed passengers to return below deck to retrieve life vests after the fire was detected -- possibly endangering their lives.
"I absolutely feel that the captain acted totally appropriately and the proof of the pudding is that there was no loss of life," said Carnival's Bob Dickerson.
Unlike airline carriers -- cruise liners operate in a regulatory world all their own, under standards set by the United Nations. Many ships are registered overseas -- outside the reach of American rules, regulations and safety standards.
One hundred sixty-four people have been killed during cruise ship fires since 1990. Safety experts say the greatest threat to any ocean liner isn't a giant iceberg -- but almost any size fire on board.
"They're on their own. It's a self contained world at sea they have to be able to cope with these things," said ship safety expert Wayne Williams.
This time, investigators say the Ecstasy had luck and location on it's side -- as the ship caught fire less than two miles from shore. Fifty miles further out, and the miracle ship might have met misfortune.
Reported by Byron Pitts
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